stealing presents christmas theft

Don’t Be a Grinch: Punishments for Christmas Package Theft in Texas

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stealing presents christmas theftThroughout the year package thefts occur on a fairly regular basis. But, as Christmas draws near and package delivery increases, so too do the thefts. While packages left on doorsteps and out in the open may seem to be easy targets for thieves, the consequences of getting caught are rarely considered.

What Can Happen to Individuals Who Steal Packages?

Porch pirates can face stiff penalties for stealing packages. In Texas, theft is classified by the amount of property that is stolen. Depending on the amount of the items stolen, a person caught stealing packages can face anywhere from a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 up to a First Degree Felony facing 99 years or life in the penitentiary. The latter would require someone stealing an item worth more than $300,000. While this may be unlikely, a thief wouldn’t know what he or she is stealing until he opens up that box. In addition, if committed within the same criminal episode, the aggregate amount of the items stolen could increase the punishment ranges for the offense as well.

What Happens When Multiple Individuals Act as a Team to Steal Packages?

The consequences of people acting in a team to steal packages can increase the acts to the offense of Engaging in Organized Criminal Activity. In Texas, a person commits the offense of Engaging in Organized Criminal Activity if with the intent to establish, maintain, or participate in a combination or in the profits of a combination or as a member of a criminal street gang, the person commits or conspires to commit theft. Tex. Penal Code 71.02. This increases the punishment one category higher than the offense originally committed. Most often, these types of cases are filed as 3rd degree felonies which carry a range of punishment of between 2-10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

Punishments for package theft can be harsh. While a person may be stealing property worth only a few dollars, they may also be stealing property worth thousands. The potential punishment a person faces for package theft may not deter thieves but there are certain other things that citizens can do to prevent these acts from occurring.

How to Prevent Package Thefts

The primary means by which package thefts are being prevented are with the increasing use of video surveillance. Individuals looking to steal packages off of front porches are becoming more and more aware of doorbell cameras and other small home surveillance cameras. The increased media coverage of these incidents and the increased capture of thieves by way of theses surveillance methods is enhancing deterrent efforts.

Despite the fact that security cameras are gaining in popularity (and the media reports on a regular basis of people being caught because of them), package thefts have not been eliminated. There are still those individuals that choose to ignore the possibility of getting caught and the potential consequences. And, for those folks, maybe it would help to reflect on the words of The Grinch, “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

But for those individuals who persist and ignore the warnings and advice – and reflections from the Grinch – the BHW phone line is always open – just don’t say we never told you so!

Police Knock and Talk Danhach 2016

Knock and Talk Interview Still a Lawful Way for Police to Enter a Premises

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Police Knock and Talk Danhach 2016“Knock, knock!”

“Who is there?”

“The police and the FBI, may we come in please?”

There is a knock at the door. You look out your peep hole and see law enforcement. Do you have to open your door? If you open your door, do you have to let them in? What if they don’t have a warrant, but ask nicely and start talking to you? If you give consent to law enforcement to enter your home, can evidence seized be used against you in court later on?

This article is a summary of United States v. Danhach, a case recently decided in the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

Evidence is Seized After Police Politely Ask If They Can Come Inside.

The Houston Police Department and the FBI had been investigating Sameh Danhach and his business associate for possible involvement in organized retail theft. As part of the investigation, law enforcement began surveilling a warehouse that Danhach had been seen entering on multiple occasions and to which a car used in stealing over-the-counter drugs and expensive baby formula had been linked. After several weeks of surveillance, law enforcement approached the warehouse and knocked on the door. Danhach’s business associate permitted the officers to enter, as surveillance cameras rolled capturing the entire conversation.

The officers saw trash bags full of merchandise and other indicators of stolen goods out in the open. Citing this evidence in a probable cause affidavit, law enforcement obtained a search warrant and seized the evidence for trial. Danhach was charged with conspiracy to transport stolen goods in interstate commerce and also with aiding and abetting the interstate transportation of stolen OTC medication and baby formula, violations of 18 U.S.C. § 371 and 18 U.S.C. § 2314, among other charges.

At trial, the jury found Danhach guilty on all counts and the judge sentenced him to 151 months in prison and a three year term of supervised release. Danhach appealed.

The Knock and Talk Procedure, the Plain View Doctrine and Consent Collide.

Courts have recognized the “knock and talk” technique as “a reasonable investigative tool when officers seek to gain an occupant’s consent to search or when officers reasonably suspect criminal activity.” United States v. Jones, 239 F.3d 716, 720 (5th Cir. 2001); Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S. 452, 469 (2011). Evidence may be cited in support of a search warrant if (1) law enforcement entered the area where the item was located; (2) the item was in plain view; (3) the incriminating nature of the item was immediately apparent; and (4) law enforcement had a lawful right of access to the item.” United States v. Jackson, 569 F. 3d 236, 242 (5th Cir. 2010).

However, if for some reason the “plain view” doctrine does not stand up to the facts of a case, then “consent to enter” may be an alternative argument, but “the government must demonstrate that there was effective consent that was given voluntarily by a party with actual or apparent authority.” United States v. Scroggins, 599 F.3d 433, 440 (5th Cir. 2010).

The Big Issue Before the Fifth Circuit was Whether Officers Lawfully Entered and Remained Inside of Danhach’s Warehouse While Conducting a “Knock and Talk” Interview.

Here, the Fifth Circuit agreed with the district court and affirmed judgment and sentencing, holding that law enforcement permissibly used the knock and talk technique. The Court pointed out that video surveillance is consistent with law enforcement’s account that consent was obtained before entering. Even after law enforcement entered, Danhach’s business associate gave them permission to walk around the warehouse. The stolen goods were in plain view and were immediately apparent and indicative of criminal activity. Based on this series of events, “even if any evidence cited in the warrant…was not covered by the plain-view doctrine, the record supports the conclusion that the agents asked for and received consent for a full search of the warehouse.” Danhach did not offer any evidence to show that the consent was coerced in any manner, nor did he offer any evidence that the items seized were not in plain view.

Consent to Search + Items of Criminality in Plain View = Probable Cause to Obtain a Warrant

In sum, law enforcement may ask to enter a premises without a warrant and if consent is obtained from a person who is “in charge” or who looks to be “in charge,” then that consent is sufficient according to the Fifth Circuit, citing previous cases. Once lawfully inside a dwelling or premises, if law enforcement officers see, in plain view, objects that are linked or are seemingly linked to a crime, then those items may be the basis of a warrant to seize the items and to conduct an even more extensive search.

Jury Unanimity Aggregate Theft Texas

What is Jury Unanimity for Aggregate Theft Cases?

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Jury Unanimity Aggregate Theft TexasJury unanimity is required in every jury trial, whether it be felony or misdemeanor. This means that the jury must unanimously agree that the State has proven or failed to prove all elements of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt. If a jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict of guilty or not guilty, then the judge will declare a mistrial. With some offenses, however, it can be a little unclear as to what jury unanimity actually requires. This is specifically so with aggregated theft cases.

What Is Aggregate Theft?

Aggregate theft is an offense where two or more thefts were committed “pursuant to one scheme or continuing course of conduct” and the amounts combined determine the grade of the offense. Tex. Penal Code §31.09. Under Section 31.09, aggregate theft may be and often is considered as one offense. Even though it is considered one offense, each individual underlying theft act (where the amounts are aggregated) is considered an element. The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas has held that for evidence to be sufficient the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant unlawfully appropriated “enough property to meet the aggregated value alleged.” The state is not required to prove each underlying appropriation. However, the Court, until recently has left one question unanswered: Does the jury have to unanimously agree on all underlying theft transactions?  Meaning, if the defendant is alleged to have committed 10 separate theft acts (pursuant to a common scheme), do the jury have to agree on each, or some, or none?

Kent v. State—What is the Jury Unanimity requirement in Aggregate Theft cases?

Until recently there had been no holding by the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas on whether jurors are required to unanimously agree on each underlying transaction that is used to comprise an aggregated theft charge. In Kent v. State the Court finally addressed this exact question.

See the full CCA opinion in Kent..

Kent was a mortgage broker indicted for theft from four complainants in an amount exceeding $200,000. The thefts were alleged to have occurred over a period of time and pursuant to one scheme or continuing course of conduct. At trial, the defense requested a paragraph in the jury instructions that outlined each individual theft allegation and called for a unanimous verdict on each. The trial judge denied the defense request to include this paragraph.  The jury found Kent guilty of aggregate theft. On appeal, the Kent complained that the trial judge erred by refusing to include his requested paragraph in the jury instructions.  The appellate court reversed and remanded the case for a new trial, holding that the jury should have been instructed that they must unanimously agree beyond a reasonable doubt on each underlying transaction used to comprise an aggregate theft charge.

The State appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas to determine whether this was correct. Reversing the lower courts holding, the CCA held that for an aggregated-theft case,

unanimity requires that the jurors agree that the threshold amount has been reached and that all the elements are proven for each specific instance of theft that the individual juror believes to have occurred. Every instance of theft need not be unanimously agreed upon by the jury.

In other words, it is only required that the jurors unanimously agree that two or more thefts pursuant to a common scheme, when combined, exceeded the threshold amount beyond a reasonable doubt, not that they unanimously agree on exactly which thefts were comprised to reach that amount.

Takeaway: When facing aggregated theft charges it is important to know that the jury does not have to unanimously agree that each underlying theft alleged in the indictment has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Bottom line, it’s the aggregated amount that matters. This is only a brief explanation of how the jury unanimity requirement plays a role in a case and if you should have any more questions contact our Fort Worth criminal defense team.

Craigslist Crimes in Texas

Texas’ Online Crime Marketplace: Craigslist Crimes, Craigslist Stings, and Craigslist Thefts

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Craigslist-Related Crimes | New Crimes in the Digital Age

Craigslist Crimes in TexasGone are the days of flipping through your local newspaper’s classified section and circling your favorite ads. These days, Craigslist is the new classifieds of Fort Worth and Dallas. It is the one stop shop source to find a new car, truck, job, furniture, garage sale, or even a love interest. With the rise of Craigslist (and other online forums), there has also been an increase in criminal activity ranging from online scams to fraud and theft. Police stings based on advertisements from Craigslist are also common. Police have seen such a meteoric rise in these “Craigslist related crimes”, that many departments have established “safe exchange locations where transactions can occur under the watchful eye of local law enforcement.

Whenever people meet to engage in a transaction, crime can occur. These crimes can take place anywhere, whether you are in an urban or rural area, in the parking lot of the local shopping center, or even on your own front porch. Craigslist is easily accessible, and is increasingly used to create opportunities for one party to take advantage of another. It is essential to be vigilant whenever meeting up with anyone from the Internet.

Craigslist Criminal Investigations | Fort Worth, Texas

With the advent of Craigslist, law enforcement agencies have seen a few specific areas of criminal activity increase rapidly. These investigations into alleged crimes often facilitated by Craigslist include:

  • Craigslist Robbery: Increasingly, people will post ads on craigslist looking to buy or sell an expensive item, such as a cell phone, and when the other party arrives take either the item or the money by force. Avoid being a target by meeting buyers or sellers at a “safe exchange” location set up by the police department.
  • Craigslist Prostitution: Craigslist is full of ads looking for love, and both men and woman can get caught up in activity they may not have even realized was criminal until too late. Craigslist is used to source potential targets, and can result in charges from soliciting sex with a minor to soliciting sex for pay. Police departments are increasingly using Craigslist to set up sting operations to catch people trying to engage in prostitution.
  • Craigslist Drug Charges: Police are seeing an increase in advertisements for illegal drugs posted on Craigslist using code words. Engaging in a dialogue with someone posting one of these ads could lead police to believe you are involved in drug dealing or drug trafficking through ads placed on Craigslist.

Defending Craigslist-Related Criminal Cases

Defense of Craigslist-related criminal charges can be a very complex proposition, requiring legal counsel experienced in these types of matters and the technology it involves. Forensic Computer Specialists and other experts may be necessary to the investigation and protecting your constitutional rights. Seek counsel from experienced criminal defense attorneys at Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC, former prosecutors with an in-depth understanding of the criminal justice system and its applications in today’s Internet-oriented society.

Contact Our Fort Worth Craigslist Crimes Defense Attorneys Today!

At Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC, our attorneys understand how to investigate and defend against complex computer-related criminal charges, including Craigslist-related charges. To schedule a free consultation, contact us at our offices in Fort Worth, Texas, at 817-993-9249.


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Bait Cars Backpage Entrapment Texas

Bait Cars, Backpage, and the Entrapment Defense

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Bait Cars Backpage Entrapment TexasOur firm has represented many defendants in Fort Worth with cases stemming from a bait car or a Backpage ad. For those of you not familiar with either, let me explain Bait Cars and Backpage.

What is a Bait Car?

A Bait Car is vehicle owned by the police department and equipped with GPS devices and cameras. But, the car looks like any regular car on the street. The police typically place something valuable inside the Bait Car, such as a paint spray rig, and then they park the car (with the keys inside) on the side of the street in a low-income part of town. If someone tries to steal the bait car or the valuables inside, the GPS is triggered, the camera is activated, and the police are alerted. In most cases, the person does not get very far before a patrol car arrives to arrest them for theft.

What is Backpage?

I doubt I can fully explain what Backpage is or how it is used, but in the cases that we see, Backpage is a website (akin to Craigslist) where escorts and ladies of the night advertise their services. Potential Johns can browse the Backpage website to arrange an interlude of momentary love. The police have been using Backpage and arranging for a female officer to meet men at a local motel room posing as a prostitute. With backup officers waiting in the bathroom, the John is arrested for Solicitation of a Prostitute when they arrive to meet the woman/officer they contacted on Backpage.

Is it Entrapment for the Police to Use a Bait Car or to Advertise on Backpage?

We get this question in every Bait Car or Backpage case. To answer the question, we typically explain that fairness and equity are not the same as the legal defense of entrapment. Just because the police conduct doesn’t seem fair or because we think the police are “creating the crimes,” does not mean that it is entrapment.

Section 8.06 of the Texas Penal Code defines the affirmative defense of Entrapment:

“It is a defense to prosecution that the actor engaged in the conduct charged because he was induced to do so by a law enforcement agent using persuasion or other means likely to cause persons to commit the offense.”

The Penal Code goes on to explain that: “Conduct merely affording a person an opportunity to commit an offense does not constitute entrapment.”

Therein lies the rub. By using a Bait Car and by advertising escort services on Backpage, the Fort Worth police are “merely affording a person an opportunity to commit an offense,” so under the law, entrapment would not apply to these situations. Don’t get me wrong, we hate Bait Cars and Backpage. We wish the police would use their time and resources toward real crimes, rather than “creating opportunities” for people to commit crimes. Why in the world would we want to create opportunities for people to commit crimes in the first place? That is similar to setting up a keg right outside the AA meeting with a sign for free beer.

Whether we like it or not, entrapment does not apply as an affirmative defense in these cases. Regardless, our attorneys still fight hard to get bait car and Backpage cases dismissed, reduced, or mitigated any way we can. Anecdotally, we’ve seen that a lot of prosecutors don’t like these cases any more than we do. Hopefully, we will see bait cars and Backpage go away soon, but until then, know that Entrapment won’t help you if you choose the wrong car or the wrong escort.


Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC
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Theft By Deception Texas

Justice of the Peace Convicted of Theft By Deception for Use of Airline Voucher

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Theft By Deception?  County Official Uses Airline Flight Voucher (Purchased with Government Charge Card) to Buy a Plane Ticket for his Son.

Theft By Deception TexasIn Fernandez v. State, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals considered the case of a Val Verde County Justice of the Peace who used an airline voucher for a flight that was unrelated to a government purpose.  The CCA discusses the offense of Theft by Deception in Texas, explaining what it means and what it doesn’t mean.  It is an interesting case because it seems so petty – the amount was only 300 dollars and some change.  Why didn’t the JP simply purchase a new ticket for his son?  Read more.

Travel Plans Arranged

James Fernandez was charged with “theft by deception” in 2012. Fernandez, serving as a Justice of the Peace in Val Verde County, wanted to travel to Orlando, Florida for a work-related conference in June of that year. After obtaining permission to travel to the conference and to use his government-issued credit card for airfare, Fernandez asked his office clerk to book the flight. The clerk made flight arrangements with Southwest Airlines.

Travel Plans Cancelled

Just before the conference, Fernandez became ill and cancelled his flight itinerary. Per Southwest Airlines’ refund policy, the airline issued a “refund-voucher” to Fernandez, in his name, valid for travel until February 2013. The refund-voucher was valued at $381.60, a dollar-for-dollar match to the amount originally paid for the ticket to Orlando.

In August, Fernandez asked his office clerk for the flight information from the cancelled Orlando trip. Once the clerk located the information, Fernandez told the clerk to give the flight reservation number to his son, Fernandez Jr.. The clerk complied.

Routine Audit Leads to an Investigation

During a routine review of the County’s flight budget, the County Auditor contacted Southwest, attempting to get a full refund of the flight. At that time the Auditor learned that the refund-voucher from the Orlando ticket had been used by Fernandez for a flight to Phoenix, Arizona in August. The auditor also learned that Phoenix flight incurred additional fees, fees that were not paid for by the county. Relying on Val Verde County’s policy that prohibits the use of county property for personal use, the auditor reported the transaction, triggering an investigation by the Attorney General.

Too Late to Repay, Fernandez Goes to Court

Soon after, Fernandez tried to pay for the airline voucher, but the auditor refused to accept his payment. Fernandez was charged with “theft by a public servant by way of deception.” At trial, Fernandez Jr. testified that his father had intended to repay the county, nevertheless, Fernandez was convicted—a conviction upheld by the Fourth Court of Appeals. Fernandez appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals (“CCA”) for relief, arguing that State failed to prove he induced consent by way of deception at the time he misappropriated the government’s refund-voucher. The CCA must determine whether Fernandez committed “theft by deception” when he purchased online airfare for government-related travel with a government credit card, but canceled, using the refund-voucher for personal travel without “correcting the impression” that the refund-voucher would be used for future government-related travel.

What is Theft by Deception Under Texas Law?

Texas law defines theft as, “the unlawful appropriation of property with the intent to deprive the owner of the property.” Tex. Penal Code § 31.03(a). “Appropriation is unlawful if it is without the owner [of the property’s] effective consent.” Id. § 31.03(b)(1). Consent is defined as, “assent in fact, whether express or apparent,” and is “not effective if it is induced by deception or coercion.” Id. § 1.07(a)(11); §31.01(3)(A). Deception means, “failing to correct a false impression…fact that is likely to affect the judgment of another in the transaction, that the actor previously created…by words or conduct, and that the actor does not now believe to be true.” Id. § 31.01(1)(B). The burden of proof is on the State to prove “that the owner of the misappropriated property was induced to consent to its transfer because of a deceptive act of the defendant.” Geick v. State, 349 S.W.3d 542, 548 (Tex. Crim. App. 2011); Daugherty v. State, 387 S.W.3d 654, 659 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013).

The CCA Decides

Here, the CCA explains that “consent” is a key issue—that the initial consent Fernandez received from his office to use the government credit card to make the flight reservation was not the consent that is the basis of the conviction. Rather, it was the consent Fernandez obtained when he asked his clerk to send the information to his son, “because without the voucher number, Fernandez would have been unable to access the [information]” to book the flight to Phoenix. Further, the county, by way of its agent [the clerk], assented to the refund-voucher’s use because the agent gave the cancelled flight information to Fernandez and his son in August.

Moreover, the CCA says that the consent was obtained through deception. Fernandez established with his office that he would be attending a work-related conference in June, thus creating the impression that county funds were being used for a work-related purpose. Once the flight was cancelled, the refund-voucher that was issued is to be considered the county’s property, “just as the ticket to Orlando had been [considered county property].” Fernandez failed to correct the impression that he was using the ticket/refund-voucher for work-related travel, instead using the refund-voucher for personal travel without telling anyone in the Val Verde County’s business office. “By remaining silent, [Fernandez] left intact the impression he created…that the [refund-voucher] would be used for county-approved travel.” The CCA affirmed the decisions rendered by the trial and appeals courts.

Judge Johnson filed a concurring opinion that simplified the majority’s opinion. “When [Fernandez] failed to…tell the county….that he had not used the original ticket…and [did not] surrender the voucher, [Fernandez] failed to correct the impression of appropriate travel on county business that he had previously created.” This alone was the deception that is required to support the conviction.

_______

Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC is a criminal defense law firm in Fort Worth, Texas.  Our criminal defense attorneys handle all felony and misdemeanor offenses in Tarrant County and surrounding areas.  For more information about our attorneys, visit our Firm Profile page.

Fort Worth, Texas Theft Attorneys

How Jerry Seinfeld Violated Texas Theft Law

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Obscure Texas Laws | Fort Worth Criminal Defense Attorneys

Fort Worth, Texas Theft AttorneysNo, I’m not talking about a Good Samaritan Law, but Texas does have some obscure laws on the books that you might not suspect.  We are hoping to bring some of them to your attention.  For the first obscure Texas law, we look to one of the most successful television shows in history.

For all of the Seinfeld fans out there, you probably remember the episode where Kramer tries to entice Jerry to have cable illegally installed by two Russians.  Well, Jerry’s actions would be a Class C misdemeanor Theft offense here in Texas punishable by a fine up to $500.

Section 31.12 – Theft of or Tampering With Multichannel Video or Information

Under this law:

[a] person commits an offense if, without the authorization of the multichannel video or information services provider, the person intentionally or knowingly makes or maintains a connection, whether physically, electrically, electronically, or inductively, to a television set, videotape recorder, or other receiver attached to a multichannel video or information system.

Based on his actions (or inability to stop Kramer), Jerry could be arrested and issued a Class C criminal citation.  Like all penal statutes, there is much more to it than that.  If you’re curious about whether you may have violated this one in the past (long before the statute of limitations ran out, of course), see the full text of the Texas Theft Statute and look for Section 31.12.

Contact Fort Worth Theft Attorneys

If you or a loved one are charged with any theft offense in Texas, don’t call Jacky Chiles.  Contact the experienced (and non-fictional) criminal defense attorneys at Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC by calling (817) 993-9249.

Tarrant County Shoplifting Charges

Retailers Demanding Money From Shoplifters for Theft

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Why did I get a letter from Wal-Mart demanding that I pay them $350?

Tarrant County Shoplifting ChargesWhen a person is arrested for theft or shoplifting in Fort Worth and comes to consult with one of our Fort Worth criminal defense attorneys, one of the most common issues we’re asked about is what to do about a civil demand letter.

What is a civil demand letter?

When a person is arrested for shoplifting, many times the larger retailers will follow up the arrest with a civil demand letter. These letters demand payment of a civil penalty to the retailer. Typically, these letters will be sent directly from the store, a law firm or debt collector and they usually ask for between $200.00 – $400.00 (regardless of the amount that was stolen). The key to remember is that this is civil demand and is separate from the criminal case. What happens with the civil demand letter will have no bearing on the criminal case.

Should I pay Wal-Mart on the demand letter?

Your options when you receive a dmeand letter after an arrest for theft are:

  1. Pay the penalty if you want to stop the letters from being sent, or
  2. Don’t pay and force them to sue if they choose to.

Technically, the amount that the store is demanding is not owed but is something the store feels like it could sue for. What’s important to remember is that for a store to sue a shoplifter for these types of damages, they would have to pursue their cause of action under the Texas Theft Liability Act.

What if the store recovered the property on the scene?

Under this act, a person may be liable for damages resulting from the theft. But, the act specifically states that a store may only recover the amount of actual damages sustained not to exceed $1000.00. The key term here is “actual damages.” In the majority of shoplifting cases, the property being stolen is recovered. In that case, there would be no “actual damages” because the store has not suffered any true loss. If so, the store would not be able to prove that they’ve suffered any actual damages and would not be able to recover a judgment.

So, whether or not they would be successful in a lawsuit is one issue. Another is whether the retailer feels like expending the fees to bring a suit is even worth it if even the most they could recover would be $1000.00. I have yet to have a client (and have yet to speak with any other attorneys with clients) who has received one of these letters being actually sued by one of these retailers – regardless of whether they pay or not.

Ultimately, whether you pay a retailer after receiving one of these civil demand letters is up to you. But, don’t expect the trial of the century if you don’t.

Contact our Fort Worth Theft Defense Attorneys if You Have Received a Civil Demand Letter

Our criminal defense attorneys, with offices in Fort Worth, Keller, and Grapevine, are experienced in all types of theft cases in Tarrant County. Contact us today for a FREE consultation at (817) 993-9249.

Texas Theft Update

Theft is On the Rise in Texas

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Changes to Texas Theft Laws | Fort Worth Theft Crimes Attorneys

Texas Theft Update Fort Worth Theft CrimesAs the prices of gas and groceries rise, so must the theft laws in Texas. With House Bill 1396, the Texas Legislature has amended the Texas theft laws (and several other laws involving the monetary value of property), raising the monetary values of the property involved as follows:

  • Theft Under $50 Theft Under $100
  • Theft $50 – $500 Theft $100 – $750
  • Theft $500 – $1,500 Theft $750 – $2,500
  • Theft $1,500 – $20,000 Theft 2,500 – $30,000
  • Theft $20,000 – $100,000 Theft $30,000 – $150,000
  • Theft $100,000 – $300,000 Theft $150,000 – $300,000

The new values for these offenses will apply to all offenses committed on or after September 1, 2015.  For offenses that pre-date 9/1/15, that theft offenses will remain under the old statutory scheme.

The New Value Ladder

The Texas Penal Code uses a standard value ladder in cases of theft and many other property and economic crimes to determine the grade of an offense. On September 1, 2015, HB 1396 changed the standard value ladder for theft in Texas—this is the first time this has happened since 1993. Under the value ladder, as the value of property lost increases, the seriousness of the crime increases. Below are the updated values:

  • Under $100 is a Class C Misdemeanor;
  • $100 or more, but less than $750 is a Class B Misdemeanor;
  • $750 or more, but les than $2,500 is a Class A Misdemeanor;
  • $2,500 or more, but less than $30,000 is a State Jail Felony;
  • $30,000 or more, but less than $150,000 is a Third Degree Felony;
  • $150,000 or more, but less than $300,000 is a Second Degree Felony; and
  • More than $300,000 is a First Degree Felony.

The change in law also includes a savings clause. This clause provides that the change in law applies only to an offense committed on or after the effective date of the article. As such, an offense is committed before the effective date of the article if any element of the offense occurs before the effective date. This savings clause is an important factor when dealing with aggregate theft.

What is Aggregate Theft?

Aggregate theft is an offense where two or more thefts were committed “pursuant to one scheme or continuing course of conduct” and the amounts are combined to determine the grade of the offense. Tex. Penal Code § 31.09. Pursuant to Section 31.09 of the Texas Penal Code, aggregate theft may be considered as one offense—it is a sum of all its parts. The Court of Criminal Appeals has held that the State need only prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant unlawfully appropriated enough property to meet the aggregated value alleged. Since the value alleged will determine the grade of offense charged, applying the correct statute is essential.

How Does the New Value Ladder Apply to Aggregate Thefts?

The Court of Criminal Appeals has held time and time again that we are to interpret statutes in accordance with their plain meaning unless the language is ambiguous or the plain meaning would lead to absurd results. Thus, applying the plain meaning of the savings clause found in Section 31.09, the former law’s penalties apply to the offense of aggregated theft if any element of a continuing theft was committed before the effective date of the new law. The Court of Criminal Appeals held that this “interpretation does not lead to absurd results because one could reasonably conclude that the legislature intended for the old penalties to attach to a scheme or continuing course of conduct that was begun before the effective date of the new law.” Dickens v. State, 981 S.W.2d 186, 187-88 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998). Thus, if a defendant is being charged with aggregate theft and any element of their charge occurred before September 1, 2015, former law will apply to determine the grade of the offense.

Theft Crime Defense Lawyers | Fort Worth Criminal Defense Firm

The Fort Worth criminal defense attorneys at Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC handle all ranges of property crimes from simple shoplifting to armed robbery and everywhere in between. If you are under investigation for a property or theft offense or have already been charged, contact Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC today for a free consultation of your case at 817.993.9249.

Contractor Convicted of Theft

Texas Contractor Convicted for Theft: Upheld by High Court

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Can a bad contractor be convicted for theft?

Contractor Convicted of TheftIf you’ve ever gone through a home renovation or something similar, you have likely experienced periods of frustration with your contractor or construction crew.  This may stem from missed deadlines, shoddy workmanship, mistakes, or general incompetence. In extreme cases, you might have felt duped by the contractor, so much that you think he should be held criminally liable for the promises on which he failed to deliver.

Can a contractor be held criminally liable for his failures?  Texas law says YES (in certain circumstances).

In a recent case out of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the court upheld the felony criminal conviction of a contractor for theft when he accepted money and failed to deliver under the contract for services.  The court explained that in most cases, dissatisfied consumers will have to resort to the civil courts, but in extreme cases, a contractor could be convicted of theft when he accepts money and utterly fails to perform.

You can read the full opinion of the court regarding Contractor Theft.

Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC is a criminal defense law firm in Fort Worth, Texas.  Call us today for a free consultation of your criminal matter at (817) 993-9249.